Want It, Need It, Gotta Have It... Or Not, Whatever
October 3, 2014
In the end, I wound up ordering the iPhone 6 Plus after all. I needed a new phone, I weighed the advantages and disadvantages of the new models, I looked at Android phones, I compared plans and carriers, I went to the store and held the various handsets and played with them, and wound up exactly where I thought I would. But I did play out all the scenarios first.
Oh, and not for a moment did I think, hey, which ones have active FM tuners? It never even crossed my mind while I played out the process. And that was after spending a week in Indianapolis hearing all the talk about NextRadio and emergencies and all that. It just wasn't a factor -- if a model I chose had a tuner, fine, but it was not a priority, not because I don't love radio, but because I don't use my smartphone that way. I listen to streaming, to podcasts, to customized music services, but for broadcast radio, if it ain't streaming, I ain't listening on my phone.
Which is what I imagine it is for most consumers. There are things I want and need on my mobile devices. I want LTE, I want a lot of screen territory, I want certain apps to work well. I prefer one OS over another, but I'm flexible. But radio? Nice if I get it, not critical. And I'm a radio guy through and through. If I wasn't, it wouldn't even register.
That's the real hurdle the radio industry has to jump. All the focus has been on convincing people within the industry to push for FM tuner chips to be activated, and on carriers to agree to activate them, and on legislators to... well, that hasn't been made clear yet, although it's not hard to get the hint. But consumers don't much care. For the new iPhone, they queued up on day one, they pre-ordered, they're STILL queueing up -- I had to go to the Apple Store in Manhattan Beach to pick up my repaired computer Thursday, weeks after the on-sale date, and the line stretched from the back of the store up the side and out the door, then wound back upon itself. Not a single person among the many millions of early adopters cares that there's no FM tuner in there. Nor do the buyers of the millions of Android phones that don't have active tuners. They know what they need and want, and purchase accordingly.
And the industry leaders will respond, well, they just don't know it's even a possibility. Okay, then, put your money where your assumptions are: Do a marketing campaign. Not the typical lame feel-good-about-the-industry kind, but an effective, targeted campaign. Convince people to demand -- not ask, not favor, but go-to-the-store-and-demand -- FM in cell phones. But here's the rub: I don't think people feel quite as strongly about it as you do, marketing or no. It's just not a feature people feel that they need. Emergencies? I was at a dinner table in Indianapolis, surrounded by radio people, when we all got texts warning of severe weather. We all checked our phones for more information. Nobody fired up a radio tuner, nor did we feel that it was necessary. That's not to say that radio isn't a better emergency information source once you get past the basics, nor to say that saving battery power isn't a desirable thing. Right now, however, that's not going to sell a phone, or un-sell one.
In the end, if it was a choice between, say, an HTC or Samsung with an active FM chip and NextRadio and an iPhone 6 Plus without one, I'd have still gone with the iPhone. And if I'd preferred an Android model, lack of FM wouldn't have made a difference. But you don't have to convince me why an FM tuner is essential. You have to convince millions of consumers of that. I'm not sure they care that much.
But what do I know? I bought a phone without an FM tuner. What will I do for audio entertainment and information? Don't worry, I figured that out before I even bought the damn things.
Once again, I'm late for the deadline, so let's quickly work through the plug for All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics, where you'll find hundreds of items and ideas for segments on your shows plus kicker stories you won't see anywhere else. Click here for that. And the Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics has every story individually linked to the appropriate item. Hey, copy and paste -- it works! Meanwhile, we have a great "10 Questions With..." Martin Wagmaister, who many of you may know from his travels working for people like Rick Dees and Ryan Seacrest and Tom Rounds and who is now working on a fascinating project, the National Marijuana News, a serious and thoughtful show (online now, radio syndication planned) that addresses one of the hottest hot-button topics out there. It's definitely worth a read.
Full Disclosure: I also serve as Director of Programming for Nerdist Industries (a division of Legendary Pictures, and, no, I've never met Godzilla or Batman), which includes the Nerdist Podcast Network, one of your major podcast entities.
I gotta go back to waiting for my phones to arrive. They say it'll be 4-6 weeks, which means, most likely, March or June or something. If I keep refreshing the shipping status page, maybe they'll come faster....